My turn: State refuses to answer our questions

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2006

Long Island is the backyard and food pantry for Hydaburg and for many others in the area, including Ketchikan. The Department of Environmental Conservation just gave a permit to Klukwan Inc. to aerially spray pesticides on Long Island.

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I am appalled. Every tribe in Southeast Alaska is against aerial spraying.

The department doesn't want to hear that we have concerns about spraying pesticides where people traditionally gather foods. When they were holding public hearings last October, they refused to hold a hearing in Ketchikan. Many people wanted a chance to testify. I know; I collected 84 names of people that wanted a chance to speak in just one and a half days. Everyone I talked to opposed the spraying.

The department said people in Ketchikan weren't close enough to Long Island, so we wouldn't get a hearing. If they had bothered to ask the Southeast Regional Advisory Council on Subsistence, they would know that subsistence hunters in Ketchikan harvest 75 percent of their deer from Long Island. I'd say that means that we have a reason to care about what chemicals they spray there.

There are some questions Warren Porter, a professor of zoology and environmental toxicology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, raised in his expert testimony for Klukwan's first permit last year, which the state still hasn't answered. (Klukwan pulled the permit before the hearing.) The Environmental Protection Agency tests that the state relies on aren't foolproof.

First, they test chemicals one by one, not in the combinations or at the commercial strength that Klukwan will spray. How does the state definitely know that the combined chemicals won't have harmful effects on our salmon streams, traditional foods, or children?

Secondly, those tests are done in a lab, not under outdoor conditions and weather.

Thirdly, EPA rates "toxicity" by if it kills the subject or not, but doesn't look at the other effects that cause problems but aren't lethal. Also, they focus mainly on cancer rates, not looking as much at other problems such as effects on the nervous, immune or endocrine (hormone) systems. Porter stated that peer-reviewed studies show that glyphosate can disrupt hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.

The state doesn't say anything about that, or how much of the chemical will cause these hormonal problems. If they don't know, they need to find out before allowing someone to spray this stuff where people gather food.

There have been some very interesting and tragic studies done on the effects of "agent orange" (no doubt similar in chemical composition) on the tribal people of Vietnam. There was a program on the BBC on the genetic effects that are now just coming to the surface. We could face similar problems with the pesticides that are being introduced to be aerially sprayed on Long Island. It could take more than one generation for the negative effects to surface.

The reason more than 900 people sent in comments, most of them opposing the permit, is that they are worried. Yes, even those 700 or so people that sent in "form" comments that the state says are not important. They still were worried enough to send comments.

If Klukwan is dead set on getting rid of the alder and salmonberry, they don't have to use chemicals. They could hire youth to thin the alder, giving people at least some summer jobs. They could take the cut alder and make it into chips, then sell it for smoking fish. Why do they insist on spraying when they could make money off what they want to kill? Both salmonberry and alder are recognized in Europe as medicinal plants.

There are too many unanswered questions about this aerial pesticide-spraying permit. The State isn't listening to valid questions and concerns. It's irresponsible to approve this permit without carefully answering all the questions about if it's safe or not.

• Carrie L. James is Alaska Native Sisterhood Ketchikan Camp 14 president, ANS grand second vice president, Tlingit-Haida delegate and past council member for Ketchikan Indian Community.

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